Tuesday 2 April 2013

Check Banking Light

Let me go go a little bit off-topic in this post, but don't despair, financial services user experience will be part it as well.

Discussing about the subject of this blog, I found myself talking with family and friends about how pervasive the "design for designers" (in opposition to users) is.

During this exchange we marvelled at the "check engine" light in the dashboard of most if not all cars. In our experience, the most common situation is where this indicator lights up when the fuel tank cap has been left partially opened (note that we all subject our cars to regular maintenance).

While I assume that this is technically correct, read at the end of the post for a detailed explanation... I did, because I don't know the difference between a carburetor and a windshield wiper.

To make matters worse, the light is usually shaped as a motor... so, no fuel cap. And yes, I know the difference between a fuel cap and a motor.

So, WHY? why? oh why? someone decided that they will label the light "check engine"???!??! Even "Check engine and fuel cap" light will be more helpful! Or a cheap sensor and a cable to inform the onboard computer that the cap is off.

The point is that the check engine light is technically correct, but not very useful to uninitiated users.

This very simple example helps illustrates that people are an afterthought in design in many if not all domains. And that sometimes the wrong shape/image can make things even worse.

So, back to financial services.

Have you seen Personal Finance Management tools that many financial institutions are deploying? Well, I feel most of them are kind of the "check engine light"... what should you do with the data they are showing? A bit of red means that your financial fuel cap is off or that your financial car is going to collapse? Explanation is a must, and green/red lines, pies or bars are only helpful if they have the uninformed user in mind and they are more than visual shortcuts for the financial professional.

Here is the information about the check engine light.

Why can the absence of a simple gas cap cause the check engine light to illuminate?
The fuel system in your car is a sealed system that traps harmful gas fumes. If the gas cap is left off then gas is able to escape from the system. When this happens, a self-test of the performance system detects this “leak” in the EVAP (Evaporative Emissions System) and the check engine light comes on, and a code is stored.

More in Can Leaving the Gas Cap Off Harm Your Car?

Wednesday 16 January 2013

The NFC advantage that counts... for the people

There is a lot of buzz nowadays about if NFC is going to be THE payment medium of the future or if QR codes, geofencing, bumping or any other technology is going to dethrone the king even before it becomes the king... even if the future of payments is going to be dominated by not one, but an ensemble of competing technologies.

Curiously enough, those discussions regularly omit the benefits for the end user. And ultimate convenience when replacing the wallet completely and not just for payments.

The fact is that NFC is going outside the traditional payment/transport arena to other domains like identification or access control, like hotel doors and even social media business cards (see popwings.me if you don't believe me)

And while as security enthusiast I can vouch for the increased security NFC secure elements can offer if surrounded by the proper trusted environment... I don't think consumers care that much about it or even distinguish it from other types of "secure" software-only apps.

But I'm writing this piece because I see NFC with one truly great advantage for the end users. And finally I think the battle will not be decided by the banks, payment networks, telcos or manufacturers (unless all of a sudden they ALL agree to work together). It will be decided by consumer adoption.

The advantage NFC has so far (it could change in the future) is the ability of "waking up" your phone and the corresponding app after tapping.

Think of it, you just pick your phone up and tap on your hotel door and the door opens or asks for a pin to open, tap on a POS (point of sale) and the proper payment app will be displayed, get close to your car and it will configure itself to you (assuming multiple drivers) and unlock the doors, getting into the office will open the door, boarding a plane? tap the sleeping phone; taking the metro? tap the gate and get the usual itinerary, going to the movies? tap and the select your extras... etc etc.

Can't you do all that with other techs? well yes and no... you could use bluetooth or WiFi, but you will need all the apps "monitoring" those channels actively... your battery will be gone in hours and not all the phones will be able to do it (iOS ones for example, but they don't support NFC either, so mixed thoughts here... btw it is not possible on Windows Phone either).

NFC still needs improvements like being able to set different payment apps for different shops or things like that. But it offers one big advantage over other contact-less ways of interaction: convenience.

Consumers want simpler, more convenient and more useful things, not the opposite... and they expect security. If key players in the industry start leveraging this advantage and the competitive technologies do not come up with something similar; NFC still has the opportunity of fulfilling its promise.

I don't want to take my phone, look through my 140 apps, choose the app, wait for it to open to, only then, open my house door, take the bus or pay for a coffee...